Throughout my trip, I had the chance to do several short trips outside of London. In my five weeks here, I also visited Ireland, Oxford, Bath, and did a day tour to some smaller sites just outside London.
I went to Ireland for one of my free weekends, and stayed in Dublin. It was everything I was expecting it to be. One of my favorite things I saw there was the Writer’s Museum. It is a small, but jam-packed museum in an old house on one of the main streets of Dublin. There are really only two rooms in the museum, and they chronicle the development of Irish literature. For such a small island, Ireland has contributed many great writers, including Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, and James Joyce. As a book-lover and English major, I loved seeing the first editions of their books and the playbills from the theatre that Yeats helped start to promote Irish culture. The highlight was talking to the clerk in the gift shop about Irish Gaelic, and getting a crash course in the language. We also took a day trip, which brought us through several smaller sites in Ireland, including the village of Doolin. According to our tour guide, the spirit world and the human world were constantly fighting each other, until they reached an agreement that one would inhabit the world below earth, and one the world on earth. The passage between the two was by this village, and would be protected by a man named Doolin, whom the village was named after. It was very small—mainly a pub and three or four shops along the road. The people outside seemed to take life slowly and were friendly. I loved being in Dublin, but it was such a neat chance to experience the “real” Ireland.
Besides visiting the Roman Baths at Bath, I also went to the Jane Austen Center, located next to the house where Jane Austen lived in Bath. Like the Writer’s Museum, it was located in an old house. Bath is the setting for two of Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (museum tour). Northanger Abbey was started the first time she visited Bath, and is much more complimentary about her being there as she was a younger, more excited girl. Persuasion was written after her second trip to Bath, after some of her family had to move there for health reasons. The view of Bath then is less complimentary, as the circumstances that brought Jane there were less exciting. I loved getting to see some of the dresses from the films, and the broader picture they painted of life during that time.
One of the stops on the day tour was Dover, located on the coast and home of the White Cliffs. Dover is a port town on the English Chanel, and the cliffs get their colour from the calcium carbonate—chalk—in the rock. The shore is beautiful, and the beach was not sandy or pebbly, but outright rocky. Despite this, people were still sunbathing and swimming. Dover is the gateway to a lot of English history. Julius Caesar entered England through Dover, William the Conqueror grabbed Dover as soon as the Battle of Hastings was won, it was a departure point during World War I, and the first bomb to fall on England during World War II fell in Dover (dover-kent.co.uk). Seaside towns are always beautiful, but it is interesting to see the amount of power that they also hold.
My last day trip was to Oxford. Ever since I heard the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and learned about C.S. Lewis, I have wanted to go to Oxford. And it lived up to my expectations. The buildings of Bodleian Library, Magdalen College and Christ Church were gorgeous, not to mention the filming sites of some of Harry Potter (Rick Steves). I loved the feel of the city, the general love of learning (and bookstores!), and the ties to so many of my favorite stories. While there, I also visited C.S. Lewis’ home in Headington. I was surprised that it was just in an ordinary suburb, but excited because I had wanted to see what a “normal” English neighborhood looked like. The tour was comprised of just six people—me and five others—who were all book, philosophy, and Lewis lovers, and felt more like a visit to a friend’s home than a tourist attraction, unlike how many of the buildings in Oxford felt. Afterwards, I walked down to the neighborhood church, where he is buried. After being in so many churches, and seeing the magnificent memorials for other famous people, it was very moving to see the small country church with the ordinary cemetery in the back. Besides being things I had wanted to see for a long time, my trip to Oxford gave me a chance to see a part of England very different from London.